Sideline Cancer continues basketball tradition

Courtesy photos Hollidaysburg’s Cathy Griffith (center) stands with ESPN college basketball announcers Fran Fraschilla and Jen Hale at The Basketball Tournament last year.

Televised by ESPN

The Sideline Cancer team’s first game will be played at 4 p.m. Sunday against a squad known as Team Hines, whose roster includes former collegiate stars Gilbert Brown (University of Pittsburgh), Ethan Happ (Wisconsin) and Brandon Paul (Illinois).

When former Penn State Altoona men’s basketball coach Billy Clapper was first contacted by the Boston-based sports teams and leagues and hospitality business TBT Enterprises, LLC in 2014, he initially set aside the company’s email message and didn’t give it much thought.

For the past seven summers, the TBT company has sponsored an event known as The Basketball Tournament at various locations around the country, and company personnel were inviting Clapper to form a team to enter in its inaugural tournament in 2014.

“I kind of sat on that, I didn’t think that I wanted to do it,” Clapper, 37, said recently. “I didn’t want to do it just for myself. I wanted to do it for something bigger.”

Clapper found a worthy cause that was right under his nose.

Clapper had been friends with Greg and Cathy Griffith since his high school basketball days at Hollidaysburg and was keenly aware of the Griffith Family Foundation’s mission to increase public awareness of pancreatic cancer, and to generate funds for research and treatment of the disease, which had claimed Greg’s life at the age of 50 in 2011.

After speaking with Cathy — the Griffith Foundation president who has spearheaded the Foundation’s efforts to raise $295,000 to finance research for the treatment of pancreatic cancer over the last decade — Clapper decided to use his coaching connections to put together a team of former collegiate basketball standouts to participate under the moniker Sideline Cancer in the first The Basketball Tournament in 2014 to help the Foundation.

Staying involved

Clapper left Penn State Altoona in 2015 to take a job coaching basketball at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., but his efforts with the Griffith Family Foundation and its involvement in The Basketball Tournament have continued and are still going strong.

The five-on-five, winner-take-all tournament will celebrate its seventh anniversary Saturday through July 14 at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, and it has become a nationally-televised event, with all the games on ESPN.

A total of $1 million in prize money is up for grabs in this year’s 24-team tournament. If the Sideline Cancer team wins the championship, some of its winnings will be split among the players, but a majority of the winnings will go to the Griffith Family Foundation to fight pancreatic cancer, which is one of the most deadly forms of the disease, with a five-year survival rate of only nine percent.

“The TBT has allowed for the Griffith Family Foundation to reach a larger community to provide hope to all that one day there will be a cure for pancreatic cancer,” said Clapper, who serves as general manager of the Sideline Cancer team, and who credited former Hollidaysburg Area High School and University of Buffalo standout John Boyer for providing him with the needed inspiration to get rolling with the inaugural tournament in 2014.

Opening game

The Sideline Cancer team’s first game will be played at 4 p.m. Sunday against a squad known as Team Hines, whose roster includes former collegiate stars Gilbert Brown (University of Pittsburgh), Ethan Happ (Wisconsin) and Brandon Paul (Illinois).

Team Hines reached the Final Four of the 2019 The Basketball Tournament field.

Last year, the Sideline Cancer team won two games in The Basketball Tournament before being ousted by the Marquette University Alumni team, which eventually became last year’s tourney runner-up.

In the 2019 event, the Sideline Cancer team defeated a Kansas University alumni squad that was led by former Jayhawks standout Tyshawn Taylor, before beating a host Wichita State alumni squad that was led by former All-American Cleanthony Early.

“It was an incredible atmosphere,” Clapper said. “It’s been really neat to see (this tournament) grow into what it has become, with every game on national television.”

The Sideline Cancer team is returning most of its players from last year’s squad, including guard Marcus Keene, an NCAA scoring champion in the 2016-17 season as a senior at Central Michigan University who is now playing professional basketball in Taiwan. Guard Mo Creek is a former Indiana University standout who is now playing pro ball in Ukraine, and guard Remy Abell is a former Xavier University star who is now playing professionally in Hungary.

“All of the guys on this year’s roster are now playing professionally, and some of them have played in the NBA, but it’s against tournament rules to have any current NBA players on your roster for the tournament,” Clapper said.

“We have a group of guys who play really well together, and some of them have actually been college or pro teammates,” Clapper added. “It’s almost like an adult AAU team.”

Clapper added former University of Pittsburgh standout Jamel Artis to this year’s roster. The 6-foot-7 Artis played for Pitt from 2013-17 and played 15 games in the NBA with the Orlando Magic in the 2017-18 season, averaging 5.1 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. He is currently playing professionally in France.

“This will be my first year playing in The Basketball Tournament, and I’m excited,” Artis said on the Pitt website cardiachill.com. “I’ve always watched TBT on television, and now I’m happy to get out and compete in it.”

Another player on the Sideline Cancer roster with NBA experience is University of Maryland product Diamond Stone, who played with the Los Angeles Clippers.

Tournament rules

All the games in this year’s The Basketball Tournament will be played under the NBA’s Elam Rule, by which the game clock is stopped midway through the fourth quarter and a target score is set for a team to reach in order to win the game.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, there are only 24 teams and one site for this year’s tournament, where in past years, there had always been eight sites and a 64-team field that was patterned after the NCAA men’s basketball tournament’s March Madness format.

Also in the March Madness NCAA spirit, a selection committee made of TBT company businessmen and coaches has been in charge of allowing or denying teams entry into the tournament.

“Having only 24 teams this year makes for more competition,” said Jordan Griffith, the oldest son of Greg and Cathy Griffith, who is now in his fifth year as an assistant coach with the Sideline Cancer team in The Basketball Tournament.

“It has made every team better,” Jordan Griffith said of this year’s smaller tournament field. “If a team hasn’t improved from last year, it probably wouldn’t get into this year’s tournament.”

Jordan Griffith, a former Hollidaysburg Area High School standout, is currently an assistant coach with the Hollidaysburg boys varsity basketball program after serving in a similar role with the Altoona High School girls varsity program.

The head coach of the Sideline Cancer team is former Millersville University All-American Charlie Parker, who also had a professional basketball career overseas.

Restrictions in place

COVID-19 restrictions present a bigger challenge than ever for this year’s tournament. Players and coaches from every team, along with game officials and TV personnel, were quarantined in their own separate rooms in a 600-room Columbus hotel for four days leading up to the tournament.

Every team in the tournament is being assigned a separate floor in the hotel, and the lodging and food for everybody associated with the tournament is being provided by the TBT company.

Players, coaches and officials were tested for COVID-19 by the TBT company before arriving in Columbus, and were tested again before they were permitted to play in the tournament.

Any player failing a COVID-19 test, as well as his team, would be disqualified from participating.

Players were permitted gym time with their teams in the days leading up to the tournament.

“No fans are being allowed at the games — only essential personnel,” said Clapper, whose wife, Brianne, is an Altoona High School graduate. “It’s definitely been more of a challenge.”

But winning a million dollars to help a very worthy cause would make that challenge quite palatable.

“I’ve seen cancer affect so many people,” Clapper said. “There are very few people who haven’t been affected in some way, shape or form. I know (medical professionals) are making advances (in research and treatment), and to find a cure someday, I think, would be amazing.”


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *


Starting at $4.39/week.

Subscribe Today